by Marc Dones
…people are dying from wanting to want it.
—Lauren Berlant, Starved
I want to to talk about sad songs. Or I want to talk about sad songs that are also happy songs. Actually I want to talk about Adele. I want to talk about Adele because the other day some friends and I decided to go dancing and when we got there Adele’s “Someone Like You” was playing—but it had been remixed. People were dancing. And I was sad. I was sad because the song is sad. Because the song is about the total failure of a relationship and the vague hope that a suitable (and similar) replacement can be found. And people were dancing.
I want to talk about the ways in which, as much as the terms “unhappy queer” or “queer killjoy” are bandied about, normative sadness has been withheld from queer people for so long. Withheld precisely along the axis of coming out. That is to say that it is impossible to publicly mourn the loss of a relationship that was never openly acknowledged to begin with. General unhappiness, as a label, would be the only real way to talk about such a person. And that label would obviously migrate towards being called a general curmudgeon. But these descriptive points have been well documented and expanded by other people who are smarter than me (see Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2010, or Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, 2003, for prominent examples) and I’d like to push farther. Here: what I want to think about is the way in which gay men (and here I am specifically delimiting myself to gay men in order to avoid generalizations about lives I have not lead) may be barred from accessing/expressing sadness specifically because of delays in psychosexual development because of the process of “coming out.” What I want to suggest is that because the majority of gay men do not begin to date until much later in life than their heternormative counterparts they enter early adulthood without relational history. I want to think about sad songs and their remixes here specifically because I want to ask a central question: why convert a sad song into a happy one? Or, is that conversion actually impossible and are we really just dancing to sad songs? What I’m interested in doing is reformulating the idea of the “queer killjoy” and asking whether or not we might see embedded within it a set of nested structures that cry out for analysis precisely because there seems to be so much pleasure in the pain.
What if, because of a lack of relationships, we hyper-identify with longing as a mode and therefore place ourselves on an arc that realizes itself, finally, at a moment of inversion where longing replaces having or attaining as goal. What if we do not know how to want. But we know the ache of wanting so well we call it home.
Absence becomes an active practice…
—Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse
When I was 12 (the year that I came out) I had a favorite song. It was called “Jumper” and it was by a band called Third Eye Blind. You may have exactly 30 seconds of laughter.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Alright then. The song is framed from the perspective of someone asking someone else to “step back from that ledge.” The ledge here could, of course, be anything. Actual suicide, drugs, general destructiveness, whatever really. Whenever it came on in the car I would turn the radio up and sing along loudly and with feeling. But, I want to ask myself, feeling forwhat? At 12 my major traumas were braces and being sort of fat and awkward through middle school. Ok, not really “sort of.” But who was going to jump? Me? No, not for years. I was singing at someone. A person that most assuredly did not exist because I didn’t have any friends, let alone one who needed to be convinced to back off the black tar heroin (that too would be later). No, I was singing a longing for someone I could want to save.
The thing about men is that I’ve wanted them for as long as I could remember, with their long calves and broad hands. But, in order to come out, something else had to happen: I had to want to want it. Really really want to want. Because coming out means professing to queer desire, means becoming queer. And being gay is no choice, but coming out sure as shit is.
The arc of queer life is always prepared to vault—to become meta.
At first I accidentally typed “meat” and was sososo tempted to leave it.
The meta constructions of queer life are embedded in the necessary forms our lives must take. Because our wants and needs are non-normative we are placed on paths that will have us forever reasoning out the “why’s”of our desires. We are always already the fetishisizing population—making something out of nothing. Our desires are not desires, typos be damned, they are meat. They must be chewed, digested, accepted, before they can finally attain their proper trajectory and be expelled. So we practice wanting so that, when questioned about how/why we want what we want we canperform wanting the right way.
A sad song: the practice ground for the battlefield of desire—the place where you learn to tell someone that you’re in love; in a way they can understand.
It crystalizes each of these moments in a dialectic that has as its centre a bad encounter.
—Jacques Lacan, Tuché and Automaton
Certainly many children, for a variety of reasons, don’t date. And in this exercise I want to avoid the impulse (at least for the moment) to label them, and the myriad of reasons they may have not dated, as queer. Again, I wish to speak exclusively to the lives of demonstrably and self-identified queer youth. I want to talk about how, as a little boy, fantasies of men necessarily replaced men that did not exist. I want to talk about the way in which I sang along to songs longing for my own broken heart.
To take pleasure in a sad song, to turn it into a dance number, is to admit to the possibility of pleasure in sadness. But perhaps it also sets up a framework in which we anticipate or even insist that romantic pleasuresmust have at their center a moment of sadness, a moment of failure. The problem with the meta/meat function embedded in queer desire is that it transforms us into our own ghosts. I haunt my own desires with a sort of whispering. I croon to myself at night, This, too, will fail. You know that all beauty migrates toward ruin. We know. We know how graves dig themselves at night. Dancing to Adele is to affirm the possibility of a zombie-like happiness; the sort of joy that is made completely itself in the moment in which it perishes.
I remember, the first time I was truly lonely, truly truly truly lonely, was shortly after the first boy I thought I was going to marry was through with me. Gofuckyourself through. And I was sitting in my room late at night and nothing was happening—the way nothing does, after. And suddenly I felt a loneliness so potent that I understood the lyrics to every sad song I’d ever sung.
And I didn’t want to sing them anymore.